Ten Things . . . Part 2

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From post I wrote a couple of weeks ago. Time to fulfill the promise made in the last line.

Dear Reader, if you are so moved, pull out your journal or your legal pad. Don your thinking cap and begin writing the list of what you, unique human being that you are, know the most about. It’ll be fun. You have the time.

List of ten done? Good work. Now write a list of ten things you want to know more about.

Compare the lists. Do you have overlaps? I certainly did.

Do you see anything you would like to pursue in these strange at-home times?

Share your list if you want to. I’ll post mine in a couple of days.

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What I Know the Most About (I KNOW that I feel self-conscious admitting any specific areas of knowledge!)

In no particular order:

  1. Religion/Spirituality (they are different)
  2. Writing, especially for public speaking
  3. English words and etymology of same
  4. Cooking vegetarian food
  5. Baking
  6. Stain removal
  7. Trees, shrubs, and plants native to Minnesota
  8. Connecting with strangers
  9. Helping people through difficult times
  10. Spiritual healing

What I want to know more about:

All of the above.

That should keep me out of mischief :).

Sending you a warm virtual hug.

Solitude vs. Isolation

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This unique time of stay-at-home orders and six-foot distancing from other humans is taking a toll on relationships and mental health. Fractured couples and families are taken to a new level of brokenness during enforced togetherness. Calls to police for mental health issues are up. Calls to domestic abuse hotlines are up. With bars closed, drunken driving arrests are down, but liquor store sales have risen dramatically. 

While the situation of enforced isolation is a challenge whether or not one lives alone, those who live solo face unique physical and emotional dangers. Isolation comes from the Latin word insula, meaning island. Isolation, chosen or unchosen, is situational. Loneliness is an emotion, a feeling, an interpretation of a situation which is also an issue for those in the midst of a dysfunctional relationship.

A sense of loneliness comes from the perception that we are missing something that we need or are without that to which we had been accustomed. From general discontent to out-and-out despair, loneliness is no fun.

Back about a dozen years ago, I found myself living alone for the first time ever. The kids were grown and gone. My marriage was over. The first couple of years were really hard. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I missed having someone there, someone to process ideas with, someone just to ask, “So, how was your day?” I missed physical intimacy, I missed someone to do things with that didn’t involve scheduling time with a friend. Generally speaking, I spent my time and energy focussing on what I didn’t have and in doing so, made myself miserable.

Over time, isolation and loneliness fitfully evolved into a fruitful and generally welcome solitude, a capacity to enjoy going places alone, to enjoy the freedom of doing what I want when I wanted, of being grateful for what I have, rather that fretting over what I don’t.

But still, there are times. There are those hours and days when the serenity of solitude is replaced by a sense of lonely isolation. Aloneness becomes loneliness.

My antidote is physical activity. Lately, to stay in a place of serenity I have been taking long walks, saying “hi” to everyone who crosses my path, exploring my new neighborhood, observing the first signs of spring, and the wondering at the strange stuff which had lay hidden under snow drifts. And then there are the birds and squirrels and dogs. No end of entertainment. Most days are good.

How are you doing? What is your prescription for staying balanced as the world sways beneath our feet?

Robin’s Good Deed: A True and Happy Story for Today

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This morning I went shopping at the Richfield Target, arriving early, imagining it wouldn’t be busy yet. Wrong. My primary mission was dog food, but the list expanded to include a bag of whole wheat flour. The flour section of the baking aisle contained a few bags of white flour. Period. An employee finished confirming with a customer that no yeast was available. I asked him about whole wheat flour. The response was a negative shake of his head. The poor man had to be weary from answering the same questions over and over while trying to keep the shelves stocked.

A woman and her adult daughter shared the aisle. In their cart lay two bags of white flour.

The woman spoke. “Excuse me. I know this’ll sound strange, but we just bought a bag of whole wheat flour at Cub because that’s all they had. It’s out in the car and you’re welcome to it.”

Those who know me will be surprised, but I found myself momentarily speechless.

Finally I said, “No, that’s okay, really, you’re so sweet.”

“Well, it’s up to you.”

Then I began to appreciate the kindness of the offer and the importance of accepting.

“Where are you parked?” I asked.

“We’re in the handicapped area. A black KIA SUV. We can watch for each other at the check out.”

I agreed.

After going through the self-check, I looked around for the woman and her daughter. Maybe they already left, I thought, and headed out of the store, but parked in a handicapped spot was the black SUV. After putting my groceries in the car, I circled around and parked nearby. In the meantime, I prepared something for the duo.

Five minutes later, the mother and daughter approached their vehicle and I jumped out of my car and gave them a friendly wave.

“Hi, I saw your vehicle and waited a bit,” I said, pulling a card from my pocket.

The woman thought I was offering money, “No need to pay,” she said.

“Actually, I’m a writer and want to share the story of your kindness. This card has the web address of my blog. Check it out later today.”

As the daughter rummaged through the back of the SUV looking for the flour, the woman accepted the card. She reached her mittened hand toward my gloved hand and we shook.

“My name is Robin,” she said.

The daughter handed me a 5-pound bag of whole wheat flour and we parted ways.

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Ten Things . . .

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At least for those whose lives are kid-free, these days of greater quietude give one time to ponder. Long walks on quiet streets, no-rush mornings, cooking at home rather than eating out, no worries about “what should we (I) do this weekend?”.

In all times, writers are advised to “write what you know” Familiar places, experiences, people (just change the names to protect the guilty, right?). This morning an obvious question occurred to me: What do I know the most about?

Later in the day I wrote a list of ten areas in which I might be considered knowledgable, not that I am an expert in ANYTHING. Spending eight years getting an undergrad degree at the U of MN, because I was interested in pretty much EVERYTHING, turned me into a wide-ranging dabbler.

Contemplating what I, personally,  know the most about, led to another question. What would I like to know more about?

Dear Reader, if you are so moved, pull out your journal or your legal pad. Don your thinking cap and begin writing the list of what you, unique human being that you are, know the most about. It’ll be fun. You have the time.

List of ten done? Good work. Now write a list of ten things you want to know more about.

Compare the lists. Do you have overlaps? I certainly did.

Do you see anything you would like to pursue in these strange at-home times?

Share your list if you want to. I’ll post mine in a couple of days.

Sending you a virus-free virtual hug!

A Greater Beauty

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Luna Moth Caterpillar

(What follows is a passage from my novel-in-progress. The protagonist had been visiting  friends whose son suffered a life-threatening gunshot wound.)

As Claire walked home from the hospital in the warm slanting sun of late afternoon, a co-worker from the newspaper honked and waved. She glanced over and waved back. In that brief moment, her foot crushed the head of a plump iridescent green caterpillar. She stooped to look and burst into tears. Claire picked up the intact part of the caterpillar corpse and deposited it, with an apology, at the foot of an oak tree.

For the past year it seemed that the universe kept hammering home the message that life can change in a flash. A misstep on the sidewalk. A moment of inattention behind the wheel. A disgruntled coworker with a gun. The bursting of a brain vessel. A gush of blood in a ladies’ room. A sudden insight that it is time to leave. A knock at the door. A glance across crowded powwow grounds.

That evening she sat in her chair, lights off, pondering the life of a caterpillar. What does it need to do in order to carry out its life’s mission? Eat, stay out of trouble, and ultimately build a cocoon for itself. All a caterpillar can be is a caterpillar until it’s not a caterpillar anymore. That didn’t mean its life was easy. Maybe there are insufficient leaves of the right kind. Maybe a careless person steps on you, or a bird has you for breakfast. That’s it for this life. No lovely moth or butterfly will ever emerge.

Claire recalled a funeral service during which the pastor used a caterpillar metaphor, where the caterpillar has no idea it will transform into something entirely different and beautiful. She wondered if that wasn’t a bit presumptuous. How do we know that a caterpillar isn’t aware it will transform into a moth or butterfly? Maybe it knows, maybe it doesn’t. And really, what does anyone know about what’s coming down the sidewalk at them? All we can do is munch our leaves and try to stay out of trouble.

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Change often seems to come in unexpected bunches and bundles.

February brought for me a serendipitous and sudden house sale, with an aggressive closing schedule, necessitating the need to rent an apartment, to say nothing of packing to move from a 3-bedroom home with too much storage into a 1-bedroom + “den” with modest storage space.

In the midst of this effort, my mother, after 104 years of physical and mental vibrancy, took a turn and died. She was ready, she was unafraid, so to grieve would be almost selfish. But ever since getting a cell phone with unlimited calling (when was that, anyway?), I had called her once or twice each day. Although I accept her passing, the thought of hitting “Mom” on the top of my phone favorites list crosses my mind most mornings.

Mom lived about 5 hours north, in small-town northwestern Minnesota. Since leaving home for college, my various vehicles have made hundreds of trips up through St. Cloud, past Little Falls, Motley (stop for smoked salmon at Morey’s!), Akeley, and Bemidji. Other than going up for her burial come spring thaw, the trips up that way will be few.

Our bodies respond to change with weariness. Our minds cope by seeking order or escape. Our spirits, if not crushed, can respond with freshness and creativity, transformed by new contexts and perspectives.

Change is inevitable. Let it open us to a greater beauty.

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Luna Moth

 

 

 

 

Coffee Shop Quest

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Historically, many authors were cafe habituates. Think Paris. Think Sartre, Fitzgerald, de Beauvoir, Baldwin. Today, writers and coffee shops are similarly symbiotic. The same can be said for many readers. While most book aficionados are not writers, I defy you to find a serious writer who is not a serious reader. (For my recent favs, see below.) Go to any coffee shop and observe latte sipping writers hunched over laptops or notebooks, readers lost in a book, be it hardcover, paperback, or ebook, seated amongst duos sharing stories of breakups or exotic travel destinations.

Unless you are reading aloud to someone, or tandem writing in person, writing and reading are solitary endeavors. For those of you who are far along on the introvert scale, days spent alone toiling away on the evolving masterpiece or latest great novel must sound like unmitigated bliss. For those (including me) who swing more to the extrovert side, spending day after day in one’s own company is a recipe for derangement. The LONG commitment of writing a book with no assurance of publication is scary enough, without the additional stress of too much alone time.

Solution? Find a harmonious coffee shop.

I have three favorites, all in NE Minneapolis. They are: 1) Mojo Coffee Gallery, 2) Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, and 3) Anelace Coffee. Both Diamonds and Mojo have yummy baked goods. Mojo has good brunch/lunch food and the consistently best coffee of the three. Anelace is aesthetically pleasant, with coffee of varying quality, and non-appealing treats (to me). But Anelace offers free sparkling water. Both Mojo and Diamonds rank high on the retro-artsy scale, with Mojo displaying engaging artworks and pottery. Diamonds is just plain old funky fun. Anelace has the best restroom.

Coffee shop people–where do you hang out? Why? What are you reading?

My recently read and highly recommended fiction: Virgil Wander by Leif Enger, The Idiot by Elif Batumen, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Olga Tovarczuk

Until next time, be of good courage.

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The cover of my journal.

Really, How Are You Doing?

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Fine.

Actually, not fine.* I write this on the second day of non-stop rain (flash flood warning!). Morning headlines informed us that the administration will finalize the rollback of clean water protections. Gun violence continues, including a murder-suicide a block from my home. Having chosen to leave my professional career to pursue a dream of actually completing a novel, I stand one disaster away from taking a deep dive into my modest retirement savings.  My ankle still hurts eleven weeks after a ligament-tearing incident. My normally dependable ability to sleep soundly has devolved into lying awake at 3 in the morning.

So how are you doing today? Are the problems in our society getting to you? How’s your personal life? How’s your health? Your work? You’re finances? Your mental  health?

During the long course of yet another sleepless night, this phrase came into my mind: To triumph over darkness, give light. Not get light. Give light.

After choosing an early retirement to pursue writing, I took a part-time job at my local Target in women’s apparel. It gets me out amongst people, provides a little extra cash, and ticks about 5 miles on the FitBit each time I work. Yesterday an older woman, let’s call her Bernice, came in shopping for some new clothes. She and a helper from her nursing home were trying to find a suitable pair of black pants.

“I haven’t been shopping for a year!” Bernice said. Her manner was anxious but open, her conversation a little confused but enthusiastic.

After helping her to explore various options in black pants, we found a pair that suited her needs–black, with stretchy fabric, durable, washable, and classy looking.

She pointed to my required-by-Target red shirt. “I sure would like to get a new red top. It’s my favorite color.”

The attendant looked worried. “Remember, Bernice, you have only $40.00 to spend. And you also want to get those cough drops.”

Earlier in the day a red top on the clearance rack caught my eye. “If you can wait a moment, I have an idea. No promises, but we might have just the thing.”

There it was. In her size. A loose-fitting red top with lace trim on the sleeves.

“What do you think of this?”

“It’s so beautiful!”

The attendant pulled out her calculator.  The pants, top, and cough drops came to just over $39.00.

Bernice looked up and held out her arms to me. I leaned down for a hug.

“I love you,” she said.

As of that moment, I was doing fine. Thanks, Bernice.

FYI, I am not depressed or despairing. Just speaking truth about life.